WWII Airman’s Remains Receiving Burial Near Family After Decades

WWII Airman's Remains Receiving Burial Near Family After Decades

(RepublicanView.org) – The remains of an airman who died while serving in Europe during World War II have been accounted for and are finally returning to relatives about 80 years later.

US Army Air Force Technical Sergeant Kenneth J. McKeeman was only 23 when he received his assignment to fight against the Nazis. He worked as a radio operator on a B-24 Liberator bomber plane. Ten other crew members also staffed the aircraft. The plane flew from Italy’s San Pancrazio Airfield on March 11, 1944. Their mission was to bomb Toulon Harbor, a port controlled by Nazis along the coastline of France.

The bomber succeeded in its mission, but suffered heavy attacks shortly after. The bomb bay on the aircraft’s rear took significant damage. Other soldiers reported seeing flames coming from the Liberator’s windows before it broke in half and crashed into the Mediterranean Sea. Witnesses noted that no parachutes came from the plane before it went down. Several human remains were recovered by the Germans.

The lack of forensic technologies available at the time made it impossible for the remains to be identified. McKeeman’s family had no choice but to hold his funeral without his body. The service was hosted at Waterbury’s Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Connecticut.

US Army officials recovered over 25 sets of remains in April 1945. The remains of many fallen US soldiers had been buried at the Lagoubran Cemetery in Toulon. They were able to confirm that seven sets of remains belonged to the bomber’s crew members. Four other sets in the area could not be identified. They were relocated to the Rhône American Cemetery in France.

The remains were kept at the cemetery until 2019. The Department of Defense worked with the American Battle Monuments Commission to have the sets of remains exhumed for closer examination. They wanted to use forensic testing to compare them with records of missing soldiers.

Mike McKeeman, the nephew of Kenneth J. McKeeman, was contacted shortly after officials found a possible match. They needed more DNA samples to confirm. However, their tests needed mitochondrial DNA, which can only come from the mother’s side of the family. Eventually, samples were provided by other blood relatives with different last names.

Mike McKeeman acknowledged that the fallen airman’s older loved ones don’t know he’s been found, but he and the family are still grateful to the military for identifying him. Another family member, Marianne LaPorta, described how her Mother, Kenneth J. McKeeman’s half sister, was little when news of his death reached the family. “She burst into tears,” when he was identified, LaPorta said.

A recent announcement revealed that the remains were confirmed in September 2023 and will be buried in Middletown, Connecticut in June.

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